What does Hallelujah mean?

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Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah Meaning

Song Released: 1984


Covered By: Rufus Wainwright (2007), Jordan Smith (2015), Pentatonix (2016)


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  1. 1TOP RATED

    anonymous
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    Mar 27th, 2010 3:45pm report


    The first time I heard this song it touched me. Both the melody and the words are really powerful. This is my interpretation.

    The logic of the song is there can be many different hallelujah's. Hallelujah can be said in many different circumstances.

    Lennard Cohen uses this theme to talk about the hardships of love.

    There are many biblical references in the song (King David, Samson and Delilah). I will not go in to them, other have already explained these references in great detail.

    There are many versions of this song. Even LC did not always sing the same verses.
    I believe the version he performed during his 2008 tour (maybe still does) is the most logical (complete):

    Verse 1:
    Now I've heard there was a secret chord
    That David played, and it pleased the Lord
    But you don't really care for music, do you?
    It goes like this
    The fourth, the fifth
    The minor fall, the major lift
    The baffled king composing Hallelujah

    David loves music, but his love does not. He does not understand this (is baffled) and tries to explain (the cords are matched by the actual song), thus composing the Hallelujah.
    I believe this is about unmatched intrests in a relationship.

    Verse 2:
    Your faith was strong but you needed proof
    You saw her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
    She tied you
    To a kitchen chair
    She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
    And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

    The man (David) falls in love, but the relation is not a healty one. It ends up with him submitting and losing his powers. It is a distructive relationship and the Hallelujah is one of dispair.

    Verse 3:
    Maybe there's a God above
    But all I've ever learned from love
    Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
    And it's not a cry that you hear at night
    It's not somebody who's seen the light
    It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

    Maybe the most "black" verse, reflecting on the bitterness of love. When you hear a Hallelujah it's probably not because of joy (seeing the light), but because someone is hurting.

    Verse 4:
    Baby I have been here before
    I know this room, I've walked this floor
    I used to live alone before I knew you.
    I've seen your flag on the marble arch
    Love is not a victory march
    It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

    The relationship still exists, but it's hollow. It is like it was when he was alone. He has seen the glorious side of love (the flag on the marble arch), but the love is not lasting and his hart is broken, therefore the Hallelujah is cold and broken.

    Verse 5:
    There was a time you let me know
    What's really going on below
    But now you never show it to me, do you?
    And remember when I moved in you
    The holy dove was moving too
    And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

    He remembers when things were good, how their lovemaking made him feel like they were really together, and their Hallelujahs were those of joy and ecstasy.

    Verse 6:
    I did my best, it wasn't much
    I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
    I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
    And even though
    It all went wrong
    I'll stand before the Lord of Song
    With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

    The conclusion of the song: Here LC turns from looking back to looking forward.
    We try, but often fail in love. We start with the best intentions and though it can go wrong, we need to try. In the end it is worth it. This Hallelujah is optimistic, because it shows that the hardships have not defeated him.

    This last verse is not included in most covers, but for me the last verse makes the song complete. It takes it full circle, bringing back the biblical relationship between the subject and a (the) Lord. It also gives the song a hyperbolic ending, which I prefer.



  2. 2TOP RATED

    anonymous
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    Dec 21st, 2016 12:30pm report


    Knowing a little about LC's life may be helpful out. He was raised in a conservative Jewish family and his father was a Talmudic Scholar. Early in his life he was an admired and prolific poet. His poems, essays, and interviews made it clear he was in a life long struggle to understand God, which included a few years formally studying Buddhism. But, he always said that he was Jewish and had not abandoned his faith, and while he was not strict in his observance, when he passed away this year we learned he had requested a an Orthodox Jewish service.
    So, what does that tell us about the song. 1st it helps to understand the subtle difference between the Jewish and Christian meaning of the word Hallelujah. For Christians it is a word of praise for God, a nown..."I Praise You". But in Hebrew, it is a direction, a verb...(You/We) "Give Praise to God". So, what LC is saying in all the stanzas is that he (we) must still give praise to God, even when we are "cold & broken".
    His original recorded version only had the four verses that related to God and the struggle of faith. Years later he added the three new verses clearly related to the joy and pain of human love. In the Jewish faith, the joy in sex is one of God's gifts and to LC it had a spiritual dimension.
    LC once claimed to have written many more verses for the song/poem? that were never published.
    So, in the end it is an uplifting poem about the struggle to see the and understand the gifts of God. And, while LC was a Jew, he saw this as a common struggle for people of faith. And, as a poet, he would not be upset if you found your own meaning in his words. And, that's why he never bothered to explain them.



  3. 3TOP RATED

    crissy
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    Feb 1st, 2009 2:27pm report


    Most of the interpretations I have heard refer to biblical stories and of course it is impossible to ignore the analogies with King David and Bathsheba. However,I think these can obscure the meaning of the song and I would rather go beyond them. Analyzing a poem line by line sometimes misses the core of meaning which may actually be not fully realized by the poet himself.What after all was Kubla Khan, Coleridges poem about? It came out of a drug-induced reverie and the words are impossible to interpret literally.

    What I see in the poem is a man who finds it hard to reconcile his own singular personal quest for truth as a spiritual seeker and as a creative artist with earthly love.He is "overthrown" by the beauty of the woman bathing on the roof and intoxicated with desire for her yet with that comes compromise.Being tied to a kitchen chair suggests being bound to domesticity and having his hair cut recalls Samson whose strength was lost when Delilah cut his hair.He feels he has sacrificed his power for ephemeral sexual desire,emotional needs and freedom from the burden of loneliness.

    And inevitably the hallelujah, the ecstasy fades and withit bitterness and disillusionment since his lover has no feeling for creativity as evidenced by her lack of interest in music,his explanation of which seems to fall on deaf ears.

    At the same time,the sexual magnetism, "down below" has diminished or even gone in the way that the energy of many relationships weaken into dead habit.

    So there is a sense he has been left with nothing, doubting a god above and likening earthly love to a gunfight.It is as if he has betrayed his deepest yearnings and is only left with a cold and broken hallelujah, an empty exhortation, a state of inner desolation.

    Yet the tone of the song is so bittersweet, so beautiful and sad that there might be a suggestion that he has reconciled those feelings and accepted the limits of the relationship,knowing that even sharing a life with someone cannot assuage his inner loneliness.

    Hallelujah is a beautiful,ironic and melancholy masterpiece.



  4.  

    anonymous
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    May 27th, 5:30pm report


    I am in love with this song, though I think I do not interprate it like a lot of people do. Actually, my interpratation is pretty weird:

    Verse 1:
    I heard there was a secret chord
    That David played and it pleased the Lord
    But you don't really care for music do you?
    Well it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
    The minor fall and the major lift
    The baffled king composing Hallelujah

    To me, the whole thing about the chord, the Lord and the music is about the hidden side of life, like something magic that few people know.
    And then someone that knows this magic thing is trying to explain it to someone who doesn't get it, but he can't because this person is to busy to see the real beauty of life, trying to compose a hallelujah but never reaching it.

    Verse 2:
    Your faith was strong but you needed proof
    You sae her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
    She tied you to a kitchen chair
    She broke your throne and she cut your hair
    And from your lips she drew the hallelujah

    In all the interpratations that I read, this verse was about sex or toxic love.
    But in my mind, and with my life, it is talking about discovering my sexual orientation.
    When he says "your faith was strong but you needed proof" it means I knew I liked girls but still I wanted a proof to feel "legit" you know.
    "You saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you"
    This means to me that, on my way looking for a proof, I found the proof. I saw this girl and immediately knew I liked her.
    So we went into a relationship but I felt like a prisoner, stuck to the chair of the psychologist that was telling me to stay discrete at school.
    So then the girl broke my thown and cut my hair, wich means she made me lose all my repairs, made me feel lost.
    But anyway she made me say hallelujah, since I liked this whole new thing, like being in couple.

    Verse 3:
    Baby I've been here before
    I know this room and I've walked this floor
    I use to leave alone before I knew you
    I've seen your flag on the marble arch
    But love is not a victory march
    It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

    Okay so my interpratation of this one is so gay.
    First, the combination of "flag" "love" and "victory march" makes me obviously think about the gay pride.
    The person has been here before, has also been discovering the lgbt community, alone because he thaugh nobody was like him.
    But now he had enough of it and he doesn't want to be see as a "rainbow poney dancing at the gay pride". Now, after the magic discovering of himself, he realizes the world is so homophobic and his heart feels like a broken hallelujah.

    Verse 4:
    There was a time you let ke know
    What's really going on below
    But now you never show that to me do you?
    I remember when I moved in you
    And the holy dove was moving too
    And every breath we drew was hallelujah

    If I wrote this and had to explain, I'd say; I remember the beginning of our love relationship, everything seems great and I thought we trusted each other. But in fact every people keeps secret, and you had a LOT of secrets. Sad secrets. And you don't answer to my textes anymore. You didn't even tell me for your suicide attempt.

    Verse 5:
    Now maybe there's a God above
    As for me all I learned from love
    Is how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
    It's no complaint you hear tonight
    It's not some pilgrim who seen the light
    It's a cold and it's a lonely hallelujah

    The person ask himself if God exists and if He sees us. He realizes all he learned in his life is how to "build yourself a wall".
    He says to the people listening to him singing that his "hallelujah" is not the "hallelujah" of someone crying to help, and not the hallelujah of the end of a long trip. It's just a cold hallelujah from a stone cold lonely heart.

    Yeah, this songs means all of that to me, and maybe you can see no rapport between the verses, but I do. And it's a 100% sure that Leonard Cohen was not thinking about that at all while writing, but it's just how I hear the song.



  5.  

    anonymous
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    Apr 29th, 4:12pm report


    ..... his hair cut recalls Samson whose strength was lost when Delilah cut his hair.....

    The truth of the matter is, Delilah did NOT cut Samson's hair, she had a " hand maiden " cut it for her! :-))



  6.  

    anonymous
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    Apr 11th, 4:48am report


    We shouted out Hallelujah in church every Sunday as an expression of love, support, excitement, sorrow and troubles. Do you hear me brothers and sisters.



  7.  

    anonymous
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    Mar 7th, 3:26am report


    As a Bible student and someone who spends a bit of time analyzing song lyrics I think the song has multiple layered meanings, however this is what it is about...

    The song is about two biblical characters who allowed themselves to be lead away from God
    for a time through sin by their lusts for a woman. Forbidden love and the consequences thereof that puts a might man of God in a weakened state and their praises to God a tainted.

    David with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11) whom "he saw bathing on the roof". He sent Bathsheba's husband out to war and got the army to pull back and her husband was killed and David got Bathsheba pregnant but the child died and he was in great grief for a time. Halalujah or praising God became broken and hypocritical.

    Samson, a Nazerite,(Nazarites were forbidden to cut their hair) he was the other biblical character who was decieved by Delilah and when she cut his hair his amazing stength was taken from him. By cutting his hair she took away his strength... "from your breath she drew the Halalujah".

    At the start of the song it talks of David and the mysterious "secret cord"...

    Firstly:

    The line ‘the fourth, the fifth / the minor fall, the major lift’ is in fact a description of the chord sequence taking place under those words.

    The IV chord, otherwise known as the fourth or the subdominant, is the chord built on the fourth tone of the scale. The V chord, a.k.a. the fifth or dominant, is the chord built on the fifth tone of the scale.
    The ‘minor fall’ refers to the minor sixth chord, sometimes written as vi (to distinguish it from a major sixth chord, written as VI) which is the chord played under that phrase, and the ‘major lift’ is a reference to the fact that the chord has moved down to the major IV chord again, the same chord that was played under ‘the fourth’. It’s a ‘lift’ because although the harmony moves downwards, the melody keeps ascending. A song within a song! Those who do not understand music may not get this because...
    "you don't really care for music do you"

    Or Possibly Bathsheba in this verse is the woman that David killed for, and that the sarcasm is that the woman doesn't realize how great David's sacrifice was through breaking his relation with God by displeasing him.

    (Either way Clever by Cohen)

    Secondly:

    The "Secret Cord" could be by Cohen an allusion to Arthur Sullivan’s immensely popular 1877 song ‘The Lost Chord’, a setting of Adelaide Anne Procter’s poem ‘A Lost Chord’. (Also the “secret chord” may refer to the Jewish tradition of an esoteric “eighth note” (to the diatonic?) which will be heard only when the Messiah comes. This would fit nicely with the fact that King David is considered, in many Jewish prayers and texts, to be a forerunner of sorts to the Messiah.)

    Thirdly:

    David would play his lyre in order to soothe King Saul’s bouts of despair and depression. David’s chord pleased the lord,(King Saul?) Later, after David killed Goliath and his legend grew, King Saul grew jealous of David. One day when Saul was in bad state, David attempted to soothe him with the lyre. But Saul’s rage got the best of him and he attempted to kill David.
    David eventually became the baffled King.

    " the minor fall" David sinned and fell from God's favour for a time but "the major lift" he later became the King God needed!

    The song is basically about the lust of the flesh or forbidden love that causes us to stray from God and causing our praise to the Lord to become tainted, broken and corrupted. It shows that even the best of us, no matter how nonle we are, whether we be saints or sinners, or go from one to the other we can all become lost, sweeped away, crazy and broken because of love, namely forbidden love.

    K.G



  8.  

    anonymous
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    Feb 21st, 2:30am report


    Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is a curse being hurled to undermine faith in God. If one believed, as did the practitioners of the ancient religions, that music facilitates the trance-like state in which a person transcends normal consciousness, the song is a "gift" from an intelligence beyond Mr. Cohen.

    The writer tells us that: "I heard there was a secret chord. That David played and it pleased the Lord." The story is from the Old Testament. But the writer goes on to tell us what the secret cords were. How could the writer know the secret cord that David played for God? He/She/It knows the cord meaning that the writer must be David, God, or perhaps some-one or some-thing else?

    If you are not persuaded by this argument, and who would be, the writer then calls David a baffled king who composed a "Hallelujah". A hallelujah, as a previous commentator on tis thread wrote, is an exhortation to praise God. Does the writer want us to think that only a baffled king would exhort the faithful to praise God?

    I will not bore everyone with a verse by verse interpretation of the lyrics, merely drawing your attention to a few verses. The writer asks us to:

    "Remember when I moved in you/
    And the holy dove was moving too"

    You might assume that the writer had adopted the perspective of God, since He can move in you through the Holy Spirit, aka, the Holy Dove. But he is clearly not moving through you as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Dove was, after all, moving too. The next stanza removes any doubt as to who the writer is. The writer says, "Maybe there's a God above." Who but the Devil sows doubts about God's existence?

    Following the plain meaning of the song, which I have done, Hallelujah is not about exhorting one to praise God. It is about a cold and broken Hallelujah. The dark lyrics and haunting melody are intended to allow another intelligence to bring you subtly and through the spirit of music into opposing your faith. It is done in the guise of calling the faithful to praise God.



  9.  

    anonymous
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    Feb 20th, 2:59am report


    I believe what throws people off is the phrase, "kitchen chair". It is hard to imagine in David's time that someone would tie you to a chair. Yes, she (delilah) cut his hair/either physically, but more so in a spiritual sense, bringing him to a place he could still say "hallelujah" even through all of he could feel was his pain in life.



  10.  

    anonymous
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    Feb 20th, 2:11am report


    Perhaps someone can explain how Elvis Presley was singing this song long before Leonard Cohen claimed to have written it



  11.  

    God_is_truly_Love
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    Feb 19th, 2:01am report


    Verse 6: (continued)
    I did my best, it wasn't much
    I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
    I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
    And even though
    It all went wrong
    I'll stand before the Lord of Song
    With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah and I think that's really what God wants humility, real love from us, and then an eternity with us just that way, which is how we should spend eternity with the source of all true love....and that's why the night needs to come before the day.



  12.  

    God_is_truly_Love
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    Feb 19th, 2:54am report


    We have to remember that he only knew the 1st person of God, the Father. I think he sensed that incompleteness in his understanding and Love of God, as this was the only true love he found after disappointments in human relationships...he longed to know his one true love who would never fail him but didn't understand, why all the suffering, why do I have to go thru these betrayals and the chaos and pain...so part of would be answered by Jesus coming and teaching and of course the next ones turn with of the holy spirit....I think he probably understood part of it as we can tell from reading psalms, and understanding Gods thoughts...like the Jewish day starts at night (like our life on earth) and then the light is second and will someday be eternal culminating with darkness no more in eternity) but for him it was still like looking through a glass darkly...anyway that's my 2 cents...love that song



  13.  

    anonymous
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    Feb 19th, 2:23am report


    No interpretation needed.
    I love the absolutely awesome music. I put my head back and close my eyes. It is so powerful, heartwarming and peaceful that I feel I'm soaring like an eagle up to Heaven to meet my Lord Jesus. It totally engulfs me with the most beautiful thoughts of God and how great he is.



  14.  

    anonymous
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    Feb 18th, 2:18pm report


    It seems the genius of this is both the melodic and lyrical truthfulness of our human experience of the faith struggle. Our embodiment creates both our "I/thou" relationship with God, while it simultaneously invites us to our striving for survival and sexuality, and thus our need for human relationship. The drives that keep us alive and perpetuate our existence.striving for both relationships is our hope as people of faith. As a Christian, I see the life of Christ as our reconciliation of this impossible situation. Christ experienced this brokeness, this struggle as God/human, and gave us this hope. Our choice, under whatever we label it, is to accept this gift, as we will never attain it through our "goodness." I think a relationship with God can only be attained such a reconciliation. This is no denigration of other beliefs. It just rings true for me. I accept this life of struggle because it may be my only hope of reconcliation and all Hod seems to want is this statement of often a pain-filled "Hallelujah."



  15.  

    anonymous
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    Jan 20th, 1:14am report


    Such an amazing song... It's really hard to not get goosebumps when I listen to this chef-d'oeuvre!



  16.  

    mponce
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    Jan 6th, 1:45pm report


    I think, in the context of the hallelujah being a bitter sweet thing, it is important to mention the music theory behind these repeated hallelujahs;(coupled with the chords) and how they make us feel. We have alterations between an F Major (or happy chord), and A minor chord (a sad chord) occurring with each of the repeated hallelujahs. It all kind of makes sense to me, as a music student, because I knew what was going on; I just never really thought about it until I discovered this interpretation website, and it's kind of cool. What we have going on is a swinging back and forth between the happiness and sadness of the repeated hallelujahs from a music theory standpoint. Super cool to me in context of the rest of the song and the interpretations and thoughts and comments that I've read here.



  17.  

    anonymous
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    Dec 24th, 12:30pm report


    Hallelujah song is not a break up song.
    - Christmas is not that Merry



  18.  

    anonymous
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    Dec 22nd, 12:58pm report


    I was taken aback to hear this song (more than a few times) sung in celebration of Christmas! A song so sad, about the cold and lonely feeling that persist after a breakup while beautiful is not making Christmas merry for me.



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